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— County health units in Northwest Arkansas are among state Department of Health affiliates statewide that are gearing up for a second round of mass flu clinics despite an anticipated shortage of volunteers.

For the 12-county region in the state’s northwest corner, the first clinics will begin Monday with a clinic in Paris and conclude with a Jan. 9 clinic in Van Buren.

Three of the counties will offer two clinics, each several days apart.

Unlike this year’s first round of clinics held Oct. 29-31, this one will offer the swine flu vaccine to the general public, while supplies last.

During the earlier statewide event, slim supplies of swine flu vaccine dictated that it was given only to those groups deemed atrisk from that strain’s complications, such as pregnant women and those with certain other health conditions.

But like the earlier event, the second will offer traditional seasonal flu vaccine to all.

Both vaccines will be free of charge, though Health Department officials encourage those with private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or ARKids First to bring their insurance cards optionally to help the state.

The Health Department announced finalized plansfor the second set of mass clinics Nov. 30.

Later in the week, the department’s “Hometown Health” regional manager for Northwest Arkansas, Linda Thompson, said county health units in the northwest corner so far have a dearth of volunteers for the clinics.

“We need nurses so badly,” Thompson said. “Also, anyone who could help with forms or with traffic control.”

Debbie Johnson, administrator of the Boone County Health Unit, said a number of factors have depleted its volunteer rolls.

These include this fall’s continuing mass school flu clinics, the October mass clinics for the general public, and the fact that the county’s usual volunteer pool of North Arkansas College nursing students will be in the middle of finals during its Dec. 11 clinic.

“We usually have about 20 to 25 nurses, and we’ll probably be down to 15,” Johnson said. Overall, volunteers numbered 50-60 for the October mass clinics. “To be honest, we’re still recruiting.

“We just know that we need parkers for sure and nurses for sure, and clerical is always a need.”

Michelle Hammer, the registered nurse administrator for the Crawford County Health Unit, agreed: “We’re going to continue to seek volunteers.”

This includes nurses andall kinds of other positions.

“Just general help - runners and things like that to help with supplies,” Hammer said.

For this second round, Thompson said, the dozen northwest counties have decided all their clinics will be walk-ins, primarily because of December weather conditions, but exceptions for the disabled will be made.

“One more thing - the nurses will go out to the parking lot for anyone not able to walk in,” Thompson said.

When the Health Department began general pandemic planning in 2001, it didn’t know the 2009 swine flu was on the horizon, Thompson noted.

“When we were planning for avian flu, we worried that people would have no immunity at all,” she said. “We wondered the same thing about H1N1.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tagging the swine flu virus with more specific scientific labels, such as the 2009 novel H1N1 virus, after researchers learned it contained human, avian and swine genetic components.

As it turned out, Thompson said, older age groups, particularly the elderly, have better immunity than younger age groups to the 2009 swine strain.

In 2004, Arkansas was the only state to do mass dispensing of flu vaccine, Thompson said.

News, Pages 9 on 12/09/2009

Print Headline: County health offices plan 2nd set of flu clinics

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